For as long as I can remember, I have been personally fascinated with album artwork and the ways we visually present and perceive the music we create and listen to. Topshelf released ten records in 2019—EPs and full lengths spanning a sonically and geographically diverse spectrum of sounds and locales, respectively. With the year coming to a close, we wanted to highlight each of them. So I opened up the artwork files and went to work creating digital collages for each, utilizing and re-purposing elements from each album’s artwork into a visual release retrospective of sorts.
We also asked each artist to provide some words on their mindset in creating the music—we left the prompt pretty open, and the responses vary a good deal! Hopefully you learn something new about an album you already enjoy or discover something ~ new to you ~ that might have gone overlooked from earlier in the year.
Thank you for taking the time to check out the music we release and the artists we work with! We had a great 2019 and are already well underway in planning our 2020 for you. Should any of these 2019 titles resonate with you, we’re currently running a 20% off sale for all 2019 releases—use the code BUBBLEMONKEY in our store or on bandcamp for the discount.
Thanks from all of us at Topshelf!! <3
TSR190: Us and Us Only - Two Songs words by Kinsey Matthews.
After the release of Full Flower, we found ourselves with a few opportunities to perform songs from the album in a different light than how they were originally presented. Since we tend to take our time between releases, we thought that Two Songs would serve as a wonderful opportunity to revisit these songs, give them some new life, and to share them with collaborators (which has always been my favorite part of making music) like Han Offman of High Bloom/White Wreath.
"My Mouth" was written at a turning point in my life where I had been stuck in a rut for years with little to no progress to show for it and finally, there was hope and intrigue being allowed back into my life. There were new friends, new environments & feelings, but it was still difficult to process any change through any other lens than trauma and discomfort. Where the album version relies on a groove and attitude to pull through the haze of reluctance, this version gives itself fully to weariness - even though there is light on the other side.
"Veiled/Forming" further explores the same space as "My Mouth", but through more of a fog. When I find myself on the other side of significant changes in life, there are times where I finally think to take a step back and realize that I've maybe spent a short time just floating by - taking a breather without consciously doing so. You drift through the mundane tasks of everyday life; going to the mall, going through the car wash. At the end of it, I felt like a new person (new attitude, new haircut, simple things) and that I was growing. I felt veiled compared to an old self and I felt that I was forming.
TSR199: Bellows - The Rose Gardener words by Oliver Kalb.
The year of releasing an album is always a weird thing to experience because you’re sort of catching up with a previous self. My new record The Rose Gardener came out in February of this year, but it was written and recorded a whole year before that, in early 2018. After more than a year removed from the writing process, it becomes an unforeseen task of touring to find new meaning in the songs after their original dramatic subject matter isn’t such an important thing in your life. Touring new Bellows albums always feels like discovering the true nature of the songs — since I write and record mostly alone, the band only learns the songs after the album’s finished and the live arrangements are usually pretty different from the recordings, sort of like we’re covering my songs.
Our first tour on The Rose Gardener was this last March. I found that there were some songs, like “The Tower”, that felt like they achieved a new life as live songs, like they’re able to strike emotions in a live setting that are different from what they’re doing in the recording. Other songs like “Housekeeping” feel like they sometimes aren’t appropriate for every venue, like the lightness of the guitar playing and the particularity of the samples doesn’t always come across in smaller house show or DIY spaces. Right now I’m on my first full U.S. tour on the new record, and I’m still in the process of discovering how these songs go. On the previous Bellows album, Fist & Palm, we toured the songs heavily for two and a half years, and by the end of the touring it felt like every song on the album had a completely distinct quality in the live setting, almost like we’d made the album all over again as performers. I’m excited to be in the process of re-making this new Bellows record in the live world.
TSR201: Elephant Gym - Underwater words by Tu Chia-Chin.
A Japanese manga called The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.. This story is talking about an abnormal high school student Kusuo Saiki who was born in a ordinary family. He has many super powers whatever you can imagine since he was born. But he just want to be a normal person, that's the only thing he is unable to do. Once he teleported into the deep ocean for escaping his annoying daily life. That reminds us the experience of wearing up the earphone and push the play button. Music has the power to change the vibes immediately wherever you are.
We want to make a album which can give listeners this kind of power, help someone creating a private and peaceful space. That's the reason which inspired us to write the album Underwater.
TSR202: Queen of Jeans - If you're not afraid, I'm not afraid words by Miriam Devora.
A little less than two weeks before we went into the studio to record, my mom passed away. The year and a half that I spent writing the songs for this album was probably the most difficult time of my life personally. Simultaneously, it was the first time as an adult I ever really felt afraid to be myself in my country. I found myself in fear not only of losing my mom to her illness, but of losing my space within society as a queer woman, and watching space get taken away from so many others.
Much of this album is a reaction to all of these emotions stirred from these events as I tried to navigate my relationship with my partner, friends, and family without the guidance of my mom or a stable grip on what was and continues to happen in our country. My hope is that openly sharing my story and expressing myself through my vulnerabilities will help others that might feel lost right now, and that it might also help them find the strength in themselves to listen to and embrace their own stories, while also opening up and finding common ground with those around them.
TSR203: Field Mouse - Meaning words by Rachel Browne.
A lot has happened in the three years since our last record came out. While there is far too much to say about it all in one place, we wrote this album anyway. What are the broad strokes, you ask? It's more or less about the end of the world and all of the ways that it seems to be happening, but also about making peace with former selves and growing as a person despite the feeling of global entropy. Also: strange internet versions of our friends and selves, bouts of insomnia and picking through the dreams that followed, the importance of forgiveness, and creating meaning in a world that increasingly feels like total chaos.
What is the function of art in a place like this? Is anything we make going to last? I am not sure, but here are 11 songs looking for the answer. What I do know is that art connects us to each other and to our feelings and our selves. It is a liferaft, and I hope that we can all continue to put it into the world, appreciate it, and share it indefinitely.
TSR205: Alfred. - Like You!! words by Aaron Brown.
I actually ended up using a very old song that I wasn’t a big fan of at the time. I tried making an album called “Like You!!” when I was about 19 and I think even then I didn’t feel ready to put out a body of work like that. I was unhappy with how I was recording music at the time and I don’t think I really understood how I wanted to string projects together. I do my best to make projects my chance to tell a tale via a sound Journey (as best as possible).
Before the tour I went on with Pockets last year, I pulled out that song “Like You (Yes, You!)” and rapped it aloud for the first time in about three years and was like, “Holy shit was this song always that good??”
I never thought that I’d write something at 19 that I really fucking needed to hear now, and I hope someone can understand. Bitches is damaged and lonely and need someone there, and in one way or another we are all bitches.
In a series of months I added on songs that I’ve pieced together over the past few years of living in Richmond. My process is often creating the lyrics before the music and holding onto them until I find the right beat or sound that emotes to the lyrics that I’ve written. I work with my close friends, all so very unique with their flavor and soundscapes and with their help I am able to give context to the stories and woes of coping with the bullshit.
Like You!! Is the natural desire to want to know someone and the complicated results and feelings that come from that.
TSR207: No Vacation - Phasing words by Nat Lee.
The Last Dance left Changes between us for the rest of our Days. Now we are Estrangers; Out of Place and forever Phasing.
As we grow and change as people, our writing inspirations and styles develop as well. Over the last 2 years, we became more mature as people and in turn started thinking more about what we do. In turn, Phasing became a collection of songs, we emphasized, that needed to be done thoroughly and with patience. Some of the songs started with us before Intermission was even released while others began after we relocated to Brooklyn. We are constantly changing. After we all graduated from university and moved on to the next stage of our life, it was natural for our songs to mature in that way too. Before we finished this last EP, we realized we are phasing into the next chapter of our lives, thus naming the EP Phasing was fitting. This EP could be a metaphor for No Vacation’s Last Dance.
TSR208: Mid-Air Thief - Crumbling words by Mister Thief.
The great Richard Swift said in an interview that he sends the whole track into a 4 track Tascam. I was inspired to try exactly that with this album, but the result was mixed I guess. It did hold together some elements with some webs, but overall the sound became quite washy and a little bit dull? If you listen to songs that went through Richard Swift's hands, they are still very solid and have weight. They really are in a perfect middle of "baked" and "hardened" type textures.
It's really amazing how he was able to do so using such unusual technique and it shows the greatness of his talent!
TSR209: LITE - Multiple words by Kozo Kusumoto.
As its title Multiple may indicate, this album is born from the will to demonstrate that, by using 4 different sound engineers to create layers of sounds, and by multiply them with LITE’s own sound, we can generate something entirely original. We tried to make it the master piece of LITE’s all time history.
It’s easier to enjoy it if you know a little bit more about the stories behind the tracks, so here it is:
"Double" is the representative song of the album, a very important one as its creation decided the direction of the whole album. From the juxtaposition of thin sounds is born one sound, the one only LITE can do. Rec: Takaaki Mino (ex. toe)
"Deep Layer" is composed mainly by our bassist Jun. That’s the most math sounding song of all the tracks. Rec: Takaaki Mino (ex. toe)
On "Blizzard" we invited on poetry Tom Watson, guitarist of the American legendary punk band Mike Watt. Nobu wrote the poem and Tom arranged it. That’s the first time we used electric drum in earnest, it opened a new stage for us. Rec: Kozo Kusumoto (LITE)
"Maze"’s main composer is Kozo. There’s a bit of Battles in the song’s chopped sound. Rec: Kozo Kusumoto (LITE)
"One Last Mile" has been composed with J.Robbins as a recording engineer in mind, with the image of post hard core from the 2000’s. Rec: J. Robbins
"Ring" is the result of a collaboration with the Hip Hop artist maco maret. Maco arranged the original lyrics, but to tell the truth, this song was actually supposed to be the last one of our previous album, Cubic. There’s even a version with Nobu on vocal. But as it didn’t fit Cubic’s whole work, we decided not to use it. The song has been reborn thanks to this collaboration with maco. Rec: Kaoru Miura
"Zone 3" is the track with the most technical guitars. The title comes from the fact that it’s the 3rd version of the song Zone. The 1st version is on the EP “Blizzard”, and the 2nd one is the result of playing it live and changing it for the stage. Adding some arrangements on the last part of Zone2, it became Zone3. Rec: Takaaki Mino (ex. toe)
"Temple" is also a track that has been made on the basis that J.Robbins would record it. It took a very long time to compose it. We revived the past, darker math rock sound of LITE, and combined it to our current one in the latter half. Rec: J. Robbins
"Nobu" started composing 4mg Warmth 5 years ago. For a long time, he thought that it didn’t fit LITE, but it happened to be just right for this album as the 9th track. So he completed the song, with a particular fondness for the melody of the chorus. Rec: Kozo Kusumoto (LITE)
Jun is the main composer for "Clockwork". It has been a long time for LITE to try a change in key from the second part of the chorus. Rec: Kaoru Miura
TSR210: Boyscott - Goose Bumps words by Scott Hermo Jr.
The album consists of songs all written at different times and most of the time in different places. I wrote and even recorded the majority of a few of the songs in Montclair, NJ, I wrote + recorded Marco Polo all in my dorm room in Nashville, TN. Nova Scotia 500 was mostly recorded in my dorm room in Nashville, TN + then in the house I lived in off campus. Depending on the song, there are many different states of mind present.
Its kind of shocking that this album came together the way it did, how it totally works start to finish, yet some of the songs are so drastically different in my opinion. But I think the fact that we recorded them all DIY w/ the same voices + quality makes them all flow very well. I think many of the songs were created in quiet times of reflection, but whenever I come up with an idea there is so much excitement involved even if the song is initially a more melancholy thing.